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On accepting an invitation from two male comedians to enjoy an interactive Zoom comedy show called Shit Samaritans, I, admittedly, braced myself for something quite risky – given the current day and age. So, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel when my nervous expectations, for an hour of dark(ish) comedy, that pokes some edgy humour into recently exacerbated issues of mental health and loneliness, weren’t even closely met.
Rather than playing with the advice-driven, call-in/response anatomy of the actual Samaritans (to which 40% of ticket sales are kindly donated), Shit Samaritans offers audiences a collage of unbridled improvised silliness. Using Zoom’s chat and poll functions audiences are encouraged to light-heartedly check-in with how they’re feeling and make suggestions.
Omar & Lee, our hairy pair of hosts, clearly have a great talent for character improv, and their chemistry is palpable, even amid Zoom’s characteristic technical challenges. Consistently quick, but warmly welcoming, they really are the ideal dudes to spur silly suggestions from a virtual audience; it’s just a shame that the pace of the show really doesn’t deliver the same.
The first section of participation, ‘The Shit Samaritans News’, encourages us to send in any light-hearted, personal news that we want to unleash into Omar and Lee’s witty arena. Such a simple, yet charming idea has much whimsical and comic potential – especially in comparison with sections that unimaginatively ask “what do you want us to do?” – but ultimately, it feels hurried along.
At the risk of reading like an absolute Monica (who needs all her fun to be strictly organised), given a bit more structure, this might have been a brilliant opportunity for these performers. Omar and Lee could’ve indulged a bit more in their sketch acting strengths, rather than lose dialogue to Zoom’s dimming audio technology, as speech and egos overlap. Zoom and improv are two pretty disorderly beasts to tame on their own, so it wouldn’t hurt to lean on a few rules in order for this chaotic concoction to work.
Charged by the excitement of high, anything-can-happen stakes, comedy improvisation can’t really breathe without audience interaction. So, even if protected from heckling and other typical challenges, the tangible and, at times, apologetic self-consciousness of our hosts, when faced with the brick wall of an invisible audience, understandably suffocates the humour and flow of the evening.
By the end, as we are met with an inspirational speech based on the events of the last hour from each of the hosts, I do look back relatively fondly on the silly absurdity of the experience. However, with random episodes spliced quite loosely together, the flimsy structure of Shit Samaritans really smothers the clear, yet quite hilarious, potential of its charismatic performers, as well as the potential of its audience to really creatively contribute and interact in the atmosphere of support promised by the show.
Unfortunately, joking and wobbling through the challenges of using Zoom for performance just isn’t that funny on its own anymore. But, given a bit more of a backbone, hope is not entirely lost for the turbulent marriage between improv and live digital theatre.
Shit Samaritans is playing Living Record Festival until 22stnd February. For more information and tickets, see the Living Record website.